Reader one of the five inferior orders of the Church of Rome. The office of reader is of great antiquity in the Church, dating as far back as the 3d century. It is, however, abundantly evident that it was not a distinct order, the reader (in the Latin Church at least) never having been admitted to his office by imposition of hands. According to the Council of Carthage, the Bible was put into the hands of the appointee, in presence of the people, with these words: "'Take this book, and be thou a reader of the Word of God, which office thou shalt faithfully and profitably perform. Thou shalt have part with those who minister in the Word of God." At the time of the Reformation, readers wnere admitted in churches and chapels for which no clergyman could be procured, to the end that divine service in such places might not be altogether neglected. The office, or rather the name, is still continued in the Church of England. The following is the pledge to which, at the time of the Reformation, the readers were obliged to subscribe:
"Imprimis, I shall not preach or interpret, but only read that which is appointed by public authority. I shall not minister the sacraments or other public rites of the Church, but bury the dead, and purify women after their childbirth. I shall keep the register-book according to the injunctions. I shall use sobriety in apparel, and especially in the church at common prayer. I shiall move men to quiet and concord, and not give them cause of offence. I shall bring in to my ordinary testimony of my behavior from the honest nof the pamish where I dwell, within one half year next following. I shall give place, upon convenient warning, so thought by the ordinary, if any learned minister shall be placed there at the suit of the patron of the parish. I shall claim no more of the fruits sequestered of such cure where I shall serve but as it shall be thought meet to the wisdom of the ordinary. I shall daily, at the least, read one chapter of the Old Testament, and one other of the oew, with good advisement, to the increase of my knowledge. I shall not appoint in my room, by reason of my absence or sickness, any other man, but shall leave it to the suit of the parish to the ordinary for assigning some other able man. I shall not read but in poorer parishes, destitute of incumbents, except in the time of sickness, or for other good considerations to be allowed by the ordinary. I shall not openly intermeddle with any artificer's occupations, as covetously to seek a gain theieby, having in ecclesiastical living the sum of twenty nobles, or above, by the year." In Scotland also, at the Reformation, readers were appointed to read the Scriptures and the common pravers — that is, the forms of the Church of Geneva. They were not allowed to preach or administer the sacraments. The readers were tempted now and then to overstep these limits, and were as often forbidden by the General Assembly, till, in 1581, the office was formally abolislied. The First Book of Discipline says:
"To the churches where no ministers cain be had presentlie must be appointed the most apt men that distinctlie can read the common praiers and the Scriptures, to exercise both themselves and the Church, till they grow to greater perfection: and in process of time he that is but a reader may attain to a farther degree, and, by consent of the Church and discreet ministers, may be peimitted to minister the sacraments; but not before that he be able somewhat to perswade by wholesome doctrine, beside his reading, and be admitted to the ministerie, as before is said... Nothing have we spoken of the stipend of readers, because, if they can do nothing hut reade, they neither can be called nor judged true ministers, and yet regard must be had to their labors; but so that they may be spurred forward to vertue, and not by any stipend appointed for their reading to be retained in that estate. To a reader, therefore, that is newly entered, fourty merkes, or more or lesse, as parishioners and readers can agree, is sufficient: provided that he teach the children of the parish, which he must doe, besides the reading of the common prayers, and bookes of the Old and New Testament. If from reading he begin to exhort and explain the Scriptures, then ought his stipend to be augmented, till finally he come to the honour of a minister. But if he be found unable after two yeares, then must he be removed from that office, and discharged of all stipend, that another may be proved as long; for this alwaies is to be avoided, that none who is judged unable to come at aiiy time to some reasonable knowledge, whereby he may edifie the Kirk, shall be perpetually susteined upon the charge of tihe Kirk. Farther, it must be avoided that no child, nor person within age-that is, within twentie-one yeares of age — be admitted to the office of a reader." The name occurs, however, in Church records long after that period, for in many places the office was tacitly permitted. The precentor sometimes bore it; and exhorters — persons who read the Scriptures and added a few words of remark — were found in various towns. SEE PRENTOR.